6 tips for surviving Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a time to spend with people we care about, pause to be grateful, and we don’t have to purchase any gifts (yet.) I also happen to enjoy cooking on these types of days where I get to pull out recipes that I only cook once or twice a year.

I realize for many of you, this may be stressful because you’ve worked hard all year to lose weight and get your health on a better path. Maybe past years have thrown you off track, led to unwanted weight gain, or worse, started the reversal process of hard work earlier in the year. So how about we not go through another yo yo this year?

Here are some tips that I think will help you out:

  1. Eat breakfast. Possibly it’s been tradition for you to skip all eating occasions prior to the big dinner on the big T day. But this is really a set up for overeating until discomfort. If youve been in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast every morning, wake up like you always do that morning and have your normal breakfast. If you have room for improvement int his area, focus on protein. I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, but it’s really important to start your day off with 25-30 grams of protein to keep from overeating later in the day. If you are needing ideas for what this looks like in a breakfast, click here to get my free list of 25 breakfast ideas with 25 grams of protein.
  2. Get moving. It’s a popular day to sit on the couch, watch football or whatever is on television and relax and eat if you aren’t the one doing the cooking. What if you made a resolve to go for a thirty minute walk or three -ten minute walks? Exercise also helps with energy levels and will help combat that tryptophan crash coming later on. If you want to incorporate it into the day, plan some fun outdoor activities with the family such as tossing the football, tag, hide and seek (with the kids), corn hole, sack races, etc. If you’re in the snow, do snowball fights, bobsledding, make snow angels – whatever it is you do this time of year! (I live in Florida, so it’s realistic to say we could get our bathing suites on a run around in sprinklers!)
  3. Avoid taste-testing a meals worth of calories. This one’s for the cooks. Ever cooked a meal that takes a while and by the time it’s done, you really aren’t hungry? Maybe you eat anyway, especially on a holiday because you’re with a bunch of family and you’d feel bad if you didn’t? If you haven’t sat down for an actual meal at a dinner table in well over three hours, you should feel hungry. If you aren’t, check yourself on the tasting spoons. If we’re being honest, we have prepared most of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes no less than ten times and having one taste test max (if any) is necessary. If you continue to pick at the turkey, grab a spoonful of stuffing, grab a roll, grab a slice of yams, you could end up with 500 calories under your belt (literally) before you’ve even made a plate for yourself.
    • Chew mint gum or metabolic gum (made with essential oils) to help curb cravings and appetite while you are cooking.
    • Keep some fresh raw veggies next to your cooking area like baby carrots, cut up bell peppers, and sugar snap peas to satisfy the need to “munch” while you’re preparing the meal for a fraction of the calories.
    • Limit yourself to one plastic tasting spoon per dish and throw it out after you’ve tried it.
    • Elicit help in the kitchen to keep you accountable or better yet, consider a pot luck style dinner this year.
  4. Slow down before you run for seconds. They aren’t going anywhere. When you’ve finished that first plate, there is a 99% change you’ve had more than enough food, especially on Thanskgiving Day. This year, I challenge you to wait it out 15-20 minutes before you decide if you truly need seconds to feel satisfied with the meal. You may just surprise yourself since it takes the brain that long to get triggered by your body that you’ve had enough to eat.
  5. Review your menu and decide now if anything can be modified. Usually, certain ingredients can be substituted without making any difference in the finished product. Some of my favorites include reducing the sugar by 25-30%, using low fat or fat free milk for whole or 2% milk, fat free half and half for the full fat version, greek yogurt for sour cream, fat free evaporated milk for the full fat version or heavy cream, powdered defatted peanut butter for traditional peanut butter, reducing the nuts by 25%, nuefchâtel cheese for regular cream cheese, and low sugar jelly for the regular stuff.
    • Note some ingredient items can not be changed but a good rule of thumb to remember is that “baking is a science and cooking is an art.” In scientific projects, there are going to be less items that can be modified if you want the final product to come out the same. When cooking, however, you have a lot more flexibility to experiment with and still end up with an excellent result.
  6. Don’t freak out. Just be cool about this. It’s one day. Too often people are off to a great start, wanting to get ahead of the new year’s resolution game only to disappoint themselves on turkey day and fall totally and completely off the wagon until January 1 when everyone else is waking up from their eating and shopping and televisioning slumber. If you do none of the tips I outline in this post but just put your efforts on maintaining your weight and staying on track on every day that ISN’T an actual holiday (so saying no to leftovers, over-eating at holiday parties, binging on christmas cookies at the office) then you will be just fine.

What do you struggle with most during the holidays around your diet? I’d like to know for future blog post topics so I can help you! Comment below!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

4 ways to conquer binge eating

Many people struggle with this and it ruins the best of intentions to lose weight or even just maintain your weight. You could be going along happily in your life and then boom, it hits. You know, that hard to ignore urge to binge until you’ve overdone it that ultimately ends in regret, guilt, and food restriction and/or self punishment. What if you could stop yourself before it even happens? It’s possible.

But first, let’s define what a binge truly is. Technically it’s when you are eating something that elicits the feeling of loss of control until you’ve eaten more than is a desired reasonable amount. The quantity and food varies from person to person. Person A could define a personal binge as eating 3 doughnuts while person B could define their personal binge as not until they’ve consumed the whole dozen of doughnuts. Person A could define a personal binge as consuming two servings of potato chips while person B could define their binge as eating the entire family size bag. Make sense? We all have different thresholds in this. No judgement for any quantity, it’s more about when you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self control that leads to feelings of guilt and self punishment. That’s no good for anyone.

So let’s talk about some ways to combat it:

  1. Know your triggers. Understand what sets you off in the first place and then avoid it or prepare for it when necessary. Does going to a party trigger you to binge on the chip bowl? Plan ahead of time and know that you simply can’t hang out around the food table. Does having a giant tub of ice cream in your freezer trigger you to indulge in the entire thing as soon as you’re home alone? Don’t buy it! Does having an argument with your spouse trigger you to run to the pantry and dive into the chocolate chip cookies? Put a post-it note on your pantry door that reminds you to stop and take a few deep breathes before you’re so quick to start eating when food is not what you really need at that moment.
    • Understand this, every habit we have is part of a chain that has multiple links. Each link is attached to the next that produces a result. The key is for you to break the link that results in a binge. It only takes one alteration, like a post-it note, to put a kink in that chain and direct you to a different activity.
  2. Exercise regularly. When we exercise on a regular basis, it keeps a steady stream of endorphins going in our system and helps keep our mood stabilized. It also helps us sleep better and thus, make better decisions throughout the day. Ever been sleep deprived for a few days? Remember how emotional and irrational you were? This is a high risk time for binging. In general, those who exercise just feel better about their health and body and have an easier time maintaining their weight overall.
  3. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. If you are going to skip any meal of the day, don’t let it be this one! Really work hard to eat within 2 hours of waking up and strive for 25-30 grams of protein at that meal. This helps stabilize blood sugars, control hunger later in the day, and thus keeps your mood more even making it less likely for a binge later on. Also, usually when we start our day off healthy, we are more likely to keep it going than when we started our day off not so great (say, with a sugary, high calorie breakfast).
  4. Avoid going more than 3-5 hours without eating. This one just makes sense. If you let yourself get too hungry and the setting is right, a binge is inevitable. Plan for high protein snacks such as cheese sticks, yogurt, deli meat, nuts or high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and veggies to fill in the gaps when meals are spread far apart. Find some other options here.

Lastly, this will be a work in progress for you if you have struggled with binge eating for a long time. The tips I’ve given you will help the person who struggles with occasional episodes of binge eating that they relate to either unhealthy emotions or certain situations that act as triggers for them. I am not referring to someone who has a recognized binge eating disorder which is characterized by behaviors far beyond what is described in this blog post. If you find yourself preplanning binge episodes, eating large quantities of food (in the multiple thousand calorie range) in very short periods of time, purposely eating alone out of embarrassment over the quantity of food eaten, and feelings of “zoning out” and even forgetting what food was consumed during these episodes, you may have an eating disorder and I encourage you to seek professional help from a licensed counselor.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 foods we feel guilty about loving

I thought it might be fun to highlight some foods that you may not be eating in an attempt to stay healthy or may be eating laced with guilt. And put a positive spin on them. I know I have gone through periods of my life where I’ve avoided just about all of these foods because at one time they were deemed “bad for you” and then later as “health foods.” I think it comes down to knowing that if it’s a whole food – as in something you can visualize growing in nature or at least close to it, it’s probably okay, at least in small amounts. Remember there is never going to be a cookie or a pizza tree. But you are always going to see the potato roots and the cows out grazing.

  1. Sugar: earlier this year, I hosted a 30 day “no sugar” challenge and the results were fantastic. Because truly, sugar can be addicting and I’m convinced the only way one can overcome that is through a period of elimination. However, if you are attempting to cut the bitter in your coffee, a packet of sugar is only going to add 15 calories. So don’t sweat it. If it’s someone’s birthday and you want to help them celebrate with a slice of cake, go ahead. If you love an occasional soda with your slice of pizza (they go great together), then have one. The research is strong that consuming drinks and foods made with artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss.
  2. Whole Milk: for the longest time, fat free or low fat was where it was at. Until recently. In past posts, I’ve discussed how full fat dairy products are linked to decreased risk of diabetes and at best, not linked to increased heart disease risk. Certainly, it is well known milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, important for bone health.
  3. Bacon: if chosen wisely, bacon can be more than a hunk of fat. It can actually be a tasty source of protein. The natural, uncured, nitrite/nitrate free, center cuts will be higher in protein, less saturated fat and without the unnecessary additives that may be linked to increased cancer risk.
  4. Salt: if you have been diagnosed with heart or kidney disease, then you may have been told to reduce or avoid salt. Have you ever wondered why? It comes down to fluid retention – eat salty foods, get thirsty, drink more water. This isn’t good for someone who is collecting fluid around their heart or lungs or for someone who’s kidneys aren’t filtering the fluids out of their body correctly. For the rest of us, we probably aren’t that salt sensitive and can handle it. For table salt, I recommend pink himalayan salt for the added minerals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go out and eat all the salty processed snacks you can find – they still aren’t considered health foods and contain a ton of additives and preservatives without the nutritional benefits you get from whole foods. But for those of us with normal functioning organs, we can probably handle it for the most part.
  5. Bread: it really depends on the how and why. Are you eating a sandwich? And what is on the sandwich? Usually in this manner, the bread is in two controlled slices and serving a purpose. Unfortunately though, the favorite way to eat bread is in the form of an endless loaf or basket of rolls and tub of butter. It’s really all in context.
  6. Potatoes: no, I’m not talking about sweet potatoes. I’m talking about the good ole white potatoes we all love to demonize. Sure, if you are eating chips or french fries, go ahead and continue to hate them. But what about a baked potato? They are actually rich in folate, niacin, potassium, and and phosphorous. Much of the time, we are eating processed cereals fortified with these minerals, but potatoes are natural sources, which means our bodies can absorb them better. Try a loaded baked potato and salad for lunch or dinner – add plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream for extra protein. And eat the skin for extra insoluble fiber.
  7. Pasta: okay, it’s hard to make this a health food, but hear me out. The problem is when we pile a giant heap of pasta on a plate with an ooey gooey cream sauce and a side of buttery garlic bread. Instead think of what is called the “plate method.” This means, you are filling your plate up with about 25-30% pasta, 50% non starchy vegetables, and 25-30% meat. This could be sectioned out or mixed together in a  pasta dish. Point is, your pasta dish has more vegetables than pasta and the side is a salad not a few slices of garlic bread. Make sense?
  8. Red meat: while I don’t necessarily recommend eating red meat every day, this is a good source of iron and B vitamins if consumed once a week. Remember that cuts like sirloin, round, and flank are considered lean. If choosing a higher fat option, just be sure to cut the visible fat off before consuming. Our bodies are able to absorb minerals easier from meat than plants or fortified sources so if you do eat meat and have trouble with iron, this is a better option. For those of you that are anemic and struggle with iron, you know that taking supplements is no pleasant task because of the side effects. Last week, I talked about choosing grass fed meat, which incidentally tends to be your leanest choice.
  9. Eggs: once thought to be a cause of heart disease, that is no longer true. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is important for supporting healthy brain function and liver function. Also an easy, cheap source of protein for not only breakfast, but snack time and lunch or dinner.

Did I give you permission to start eating any of these foods more often? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is grass fed healthier?

Do you consume grass fed beef, dairy, or butter?  I gotta admit, when I started digging into the research, I wanted to throw in the towel quickly because this is one of those topics that can be debated pretty heavily and the research is not conclusive either. But is it ever in the area of nutrition?

A little back ground for you. Most of the beef you purchase in the store is going to be grain fed. And the dairy you buy will come from cow’s who have consumed grain feed made from soy and corn. Why? Because cows fed grain grow faster and frankly, grain is kinda like cake and ice cream to them. They love it and it’s cheaper. Win-win, right? I can see this – I have a pet rabbit and while she is supposed to eat mostly hay, she very well prefers her little rabbit food pebbles over the hay hanging in her cage that is much healthier for her digestive system. I’ve read the grain feed isn’t good for her if she eats too much and in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s addicted to the stuff. She’s kinda fat actually.

Back to the cows though. Why should we care what they eat? More importantly, does it really matter? I mean, I’m a dietitian and even I wonder this because I have better things to do than worry about what the cows ate before their milk was turned into butter and melted on my morning bagel….like my obese pet rabbit, my child’s missing homework (again), and the fact that I haven’t made time to get my oil changed in six months (true story.)

Well one reason I believe it’s getting attention is because the standard American diet (aka SAD) is so low in healthy omega 3s fats (the kind that helps lower inflammation in the body and protect against heart disease). It is a proven fact that grass fed beef products are higher in omega 3 fats than grain fed. However, that does not mean eating a grass fed hamburger is a high source of omega 3 fats. In fact, in a four ounce hamburger patty, you will only get 80 milligrams of omega 3 fats. I’m not impressed. The best sources remain fatty fish like salmon (~1700 milligrams in three ounces), walnuts (~2600 milligrams in 1/4 cup), and flax seed (~1600 milligrams in 1 tablespoon.) Problem is, when is the last time you ate any of those items? And do you eat them daily? I don’t.

Let’s break it down though. Because it goes deeper, much deeper. There are different types of omega 3 fatty acids, and this is where I was tempted to throw in the towel. But I pressed on.

  1. Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA and DHA): these are the two heavy hitter omega 3 fatty acids that our body can use directly. They are well known for fighting inflammation, and reducing heart disease. This is the kind found in fish. This is what you want.
  2. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Grass-fed butter contains five times more CLA than butter from grain-fed cows. Why is that a big deal? CLA converts inside your body to DHA and EPA.
  3. Butyric acid: beneficial in aiding digestion and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a short chain fatty acid found highest in amounts in high quality butter, ghee, and raw milk among other types of foods. Fun fact: it is responsible for the smell of vomit. Doesnt that make you want to run out and buy some butter now?
  4. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA): small amounts are converted to EPA and DHA. This is the kind primarily found in grass fed beef. Much larger amounts are found in walnuts and flaxseeds, as stated above. But evidence shows you really need the EPA and DHA to be used by the body.

What’s the bottom line here though? From my research, there isn’t any hard evidence that grass fed butter or dairy will improve one’s heart disease risk when substituted for the grain fed versions. I’ve written extensively on the topic of dairy in the past, check it out here. What there is evidence for, is that those in countries that are provided mostly grass fed beef and dairy are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease if they are among those who consume the highest amount of full fat dairy products. Keep in mind, these studies I linked are just observations, so they don’t necessarily prove that eating high amounts of dairy and/or beef cause a lower risk of heart attack. But they still show something.

Okay, but what else? This is where I think it really counts. So pay attention if you’ve been half reading so far. After asking around and digging more, I found that the real concern is the genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs. Recall cattle feed is made mostly from ground up corn and soy, which tastes super yummy to them. Currently, 89% of corn and 94% of soy is grown with genetically modified seeds (check it out.)

Why? So that they are resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate, aka Roundup. Well, the cows are eating it not us, so why should we care? According to this study, this widely used herbicide accumulates in the animal tissue and urine. This means it remains in the hamburgers we eat and milk we drink. That study also found that it accumulates in human tissue, by the way. This is a highly controversial topic. But there are studies suggesting glycphosate is linked to a host of health issues we are experiencing in the world today to include cancer, including non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, parkinson’s disease, birth defects, hormonal disruptions, kidney disease, and a host of other health issues. Unfortunately, the issue of GMO avoidance goes far beyond choosing grass fed beef and dairy products. But that’s for another blog post.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Food safety tips during and after a power outage

Many of us in Florida are dealing with power outages this hurricane season and that means our refrigerated and freezer items are at risk for developing bacteria.  The question that immediately comes up is, is it safe to eat? Perhaps it’s time for a refresher on a few food safety tips:

  1. Cold (refrigerated) foods should be kept at or below 40ºF. Your appliance will have a temperature setting to tell you where it’s at, but try to avoid opening it as much as possible so you don’t let the cool air out. A closed refrigerator that is full should keep the food cold enough for about four hours.  Once the temp drops below 40ºF, you have a two hour window before the food becomes an ideal environment to grow bacteria.
    • Hopefully you’ve stocked up on ice and coolers to start putting your important items in. Personally, I suggest consuming high risk items prior to reaching above 40º such as eggs, mayonnaise and mayonnaise based products such as tuna/potato/chicken salad and any leftovers.
    • Fruits and vegetables will last much longer than two hours and many are shelf stable, so don’t worry too much about these. An exception would be berries and grapes that tend to spoil quickly. Eat those first.
  2. Frozen items should be kept at or below 0ºF. Again, your freezer should tell you this, but don’t open it more than you have to. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
    • It is best to keep the items close together so they keep each other cold. Once it rises above 0ºF, watch it as many of those items will be okay if cooked before reaching above 40ºF. Unfortunately if they go over that 40ºF past two hours, especially frozen meats, it’s time to throw them out. It’s just not worth the risk of getting sick.
    • Remember, you can put some of your refrigerated items in the freezer to keep them under their 40ºF for a longer period of time and you may be able to save them.
    • Having extra ice packs, even dry ice if you can get some, full tupperware of frozen water, and full frozen ice trays stocked in your freezer can help keep the food at ideal temperatures for as long as possible.
  3. Hopefully you stocked up on nonperishables. If you didn’t, there will likely be a next time and might as well plan sooner than later. These are some of my favorites:
    • Quest protein bars
    • Starbucks light double shots (gotta have coffee)
    • Trail mix or mixed nuts or any kind of nuts are great
    • Peanut butter or any kind of nut butter
    • Triscuits (for spreading nut butter on – better than just plain ol’ bread to me)
    • Bananas
    • Tangerines
    • Tomatoes (I could eat these like apples!)
    • Apples
    • Beef jerky
    • Pre-seasoned tuna pouches
    • 3 ounce chicken cans
    • Cracklin oat bran cereal (or granola is good too!)
    • Animal crackers (okay, not most nutritional, but gotta have a crunchy snack!)
    • Dried fruit (I got mini raisin boxes, mangos, and apricots this go around)
    • Pita bread
    • Avocados
    • 1 gallon water per person per day
  4. A sample menu for you using only shelf stable food:
    • Breakfast:
      • Quest bar + tangerine
      • Pita bread with peanut butter and banana sandwich
      • Cracklin oat bran + 1/4 cup dried fruit
      • All to include Starbucks light double shot of course!
    • Lunch/Dinner:
      • Tuna pouch + sliced tomato + 8 triscuits
      • Pita bread + sliced avocado + canned chicken + 10 animal crackers
      • Peanut butter spread on 8 triscuits + mini raisin box
      • Pita bread with peanut butter and banana sandwich + 1/4 cup trail mix
    • Snack tips:
      • No stress eating! This is a stressful time, but it’s not going to make you feel better. I’ve written lots of posts on this in the past explaining why.
      • Stick to the rule of eating every three hours as much as you can. Your meals are possibly going to be smaller, however, so eat to hunger if necessary. High protein, shelf stable snacks include: nuts, trail mix, beef jerky, canned chicken, and tuna pouches. When the power goes out, cheese sticks and yogurt are great to eat up first. I also recommend hard boiling your eggs beforehand so you have snacks and breakfast items to eat while they are still in the correct temperature zones. Remember, you are probably going to have to throw out these highly perishable items anyway- cook them while you can!
  5. What do you do when the power comes back on?
    • Do not, I repeat, do not rely on odor and appearance to determine if a food is safe to eat. You gotta rely on temperatures. Trust me when I say, a food borne illness in the aftermath of a hurricane is not something you want to be dealing with.
    • Throw anything out that has reached above 40ºF for longer than two hours. Period. Especially meats that started to defrost and any frozen items that no longer have ice crystals.
    • If a food has been determined safe to eat and is perishable, such as eggs, meat, etc – be sure to cook it all the way. No rare steak or sunny side up eggs just to be sure.
    • Lastly, when in doubt, just throw it out. You can always replace the food later. Be safe!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Back to school tips for a healthy family (and your sanity!)

This is a crazy time of year. Lazy days of summer are over and routines are back in full force. I relish the summer because of slow mornings and relaxed evenings without homework. Movie nights any night we want, lunch at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and leisurely mid-week breakfasts are over.

I once read that August is kinda like the Sunday of the year. It represents a new start and recommitment to improving what hasn’t worked in the previous months. Some of you may have children transitioning into middle or high school this year and if you’re like me, you might have a child just entering the school world. Change is here! But that doesn’t mean you have to feel like you’re drowning in after school sports schedules, reading logs, and math homework that you live on pizza and fast food for the next 9 months.

Tips for maintaining sanity and a healthy family during the school year:

  1. Pre-make freezer meals. These can be precooked or not. I’ve done both. If you decide to precook I recommend making enough for at least two meals – one for that evening and one to freeze. It’s much easier to make two at once while you already have the stuff out. Raw meats can be put in large freezer bags with chopped veggies and sauces then frozen for later cooking (baked, pressure or slow cooked.)
  2. Plan ahead. Duh. You’ll have a routine. You’re gonna know when football practice is and when the games are. There’s gonna be late nights that cooking isn’t going to happen. Will those nights be the night you save Monday’s leftovers for? Or the night you decide your family will eat out? It’s okay to eat out 1-2 times a week. It’s not okay to just decide you’re gonna be a fast food family every night during the week.
  3. Plan quick meals. Thirty minute meals sound great. But let’s face it, sometimes that’s too long when it’s late and you’ve got starving kids whining at you. Some of my favorite fifteen minute meals to make include: cheese omelets with fruit and whole wheat toast, deli sandwiches and salad, salad (using pre-made salad bags) with pre-cooked chicken, deli meat, or canned tuna, etc. Nothing wrong with a protein shake or protein bar and yogurt/fruit either. Not all kids will enjoy that last option so I may boil them a hot dog and add raw veggies with ranch if that’s what I go for. Just be flexible! Meals are probably not always going to be your traditional family style meat and two sides.
  4. Establish a bed time and routine. I’ve been guilty in the past about not doing this. You know what happens? There isn’t one and every night turns into a circus, ending with sweat and tears. (I’m not talking about my kids!)  If you don’t want this to happen, decide now when bed time will be and then reverse engineer. That’s will determine what time dinner is going to be. It’s not always going to work out perfectly, but establishing this will make life much easier for you and help you make decisions about what responsibilities and activities you participate later on in the school year.
  5. Take a good multivitamin. Yes, I’m advising your whole family do this. It’s important to fill in the nutritional gaps with a high quality vitamin. This can really help with immunity, focus, and sleep quality. Germs and common childhood illnesses are frequent throughout the school year! Lessen your chances with this simple step. I’d love to tell you if you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains that you’ll be set. But I’m not that confident in today’s food supply or our ability to consistently eat a perfect diet in today’s busy lifestyle. If you would like recommendations for brands, feel free to contact me. Not all are created equal.
  6. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And make them convenient to eat. This means they are cut up, washed, and stored in clear containers in the front of the refrigerator. Consider storing apples, oranges, and bananas in a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. Research shows that this really increases the chances they will be consumed by your family first and more often throughout the week. These will make for much healthier after school snacks over the bag of chips in the pantry! We eat what’s convenient.
  7. If you plan to pre-pack lunches, try to make them for 2-3 days ahead of time. Again, when you’ve got the stuff out already, it saves time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches last up to three days without going soggy. I’ve tested it myself. And be okay with allowing your kids to eat at school some of the time. I learned a while ago that it’s not healthy for me to be up all hours losing sleep in the kitchen trying to pack everyone the perfect lunch.
  8. Grocery shop once a week. Pick a day and time you’re gonna do it consistently. If possible, not a weekend day in the afternoon. This is the busiest and most stressful time and it will take you the longest. Make a list before you go and get it done. No food in the kitchen = no meals made at home. Some grocery stores are now offering curb side pick up. Do your shopping online, they get it together for you, and you just pick it up at the door. Genius! I have a previous post  if you need help with budgeting.
  9. Eat breakfast. As moms, we are pretty good about making sure our children eat a healthy breakfast before rushing off to school. And then we get to work or go on about our day and never get beyond the cup of coffee for ourselves. Don’t do that. Everyone needs breakfast to maintain a healthy weight, perform better, focus throughout the day, and to prevent unhealthy snacking. While you’re making your children breakfast, take the extra two minutes to make yourself one too. If that’s really a no go, consider a meal replacement. I offer insights and suggestions here. Popular kid’s breakfast options include peanut butter on waffles, peanut butter and jelly (I like uncrustables for a fast fix), oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, cereal and milk with strawberries or bananas, cheese omelet with fruit, cinnamon raisin toast and a banana, yogurt and cheerios, hard boiled eggs and toast.
  10. Be flexible. The biggest reason people fail at their health goals is because they get stuck in the mentality that their plans needs to be perfect. As soon as something unexpected happens (a child failed their test, you get asked to volunteer for the halloween party, you get a flat tire on the way to school, etc), they throw in the towel. I call this “Plan A,” perfectionism, which really only happens 5% of the time. Plan B is your reality, so flexibility is key because these things are going to come up, 90% of the time. That’s just life. What’s the other 5%? Plan C….reserved for those days when you’re probably gonna stay home, order a pizza, and call it a day. Luckily they only happen occasionally!

    Most important thing is, you make a plan, allow for flexibility, fall off course sometimes, and consistently get back on track. 

Good luck this year, I wish you a year of success and fun filled memories!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

The real reason to go vegan (hint: it’s not because meat causes cancer)

I want to start with a disclaimer, I don’t have Netflix. I know. But I rarely watch tv these days and when I do, it’s in the form of a Friday night animated movie with my kids. You’ll understand in a minute why this matters to the topic of vegan diets.

But first, let’s clarify what a vegan diet really is. It’s not the same thing as going vegetarian which is simply cutting out some or all animal products. Vegans are hard core. They don’t eat animal containing products of any kind including beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey and any products containing such ingredients (i.e. whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.) Most vegans I have known rely on whole, plant based foods to compose their diets. The bulk of their diet comes from nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and occasional dairy substitutes. They typically do not consume processed meat substitutes (that would be a flexitarian), processed junk food, added oils, and sugary drinks/sweets. These are health conscious people that often care about the environment too.

A certain movie on Netflix has been circulating recently about how healthy vegan diets are, suggesting if you follow them, you won’t get cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. And highlights how unhealthy eating meat, poultry, processed meat, even fish, and all forms of dairy is. Cancer in a patty with melted diabetes on top, shall we?

As a reader of my stuff, you probably know by now, I have an opinion. But you should also know my opinions are based on quality evidence. I’ve read a thorough review of the movie but my post really isn’t to bash the movie. What I’d prefer to do is shed some light on the real reason you’d want to consider following a vegan diet instead of a bunch of bias and poorly backed reasons of why you shouldn’t eat meat. In the world of nutrition and scientific research, there are very little absolutes. When it comes down to it, nobody really has the answer. If they did, they would be extremely wealthy and these diseases that have become such epidemics would be eradicated by now. One little movie just doesn’t have the miracle answer. Sorry.

So let’s outline some great reasons why a vegan diet would be a great option, sprinkled with a few reasons why it might not be a fit for you:

  1. Vegan diets are nutritious: this really is a no brainer. They are naturally higher in fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemical than the typical western diet (aka standard American diet aka SAD). The fat content is also more unsaturated since there is no allowance for the primary sources it comes from like butter, beef, processed goods and poultry skin. However, there are going to be a few nutrients that will present a challenge and concerted effort to obtain adequate amounts is required. Vitamin B-12 to start with because the best source in the SAD comes from eggs and animal products. There is a product that you may have never heard of unless you circulate in the vegan communities called nutritional yeast, which can be fortified with B-12 (think parmesan cheese). Most solid vegans I know take daily sublingual supplements or bi-weekly injections. Really no way of getting around that one, a B12 deficiency can lead to all kinds of issues including permanent neurological damage, so don’t mess with it. Next ones are vitamin D, calcium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These three power house nutrients typically come from canned seafood and dairy products, both off the vegan menu. If flax seed, flax seed oil, and walnuts are a regular part of the diet, omega 3 fatty acids should not be a problem. And there are always vegan omega 3 supplements. It should be noted that the vegan supplements are not as bioavailable as the fish supplements, however. Some green leafy vegetables will provide plenty of calcium if eaten regularly especially kale, broccoli, and watercress. Almonds are also a great source of calcium all things considered. Plant-based dairy alternatives can be a good option too if fortified with vitamin D, B12, and calcium. I talk more about them in this recent post.
  2. There is possibility that vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The research isn’t clear, folks. The movie which shall remain anonymous, gave studies, which to the average person unfamiliar with how research works, might sound compelling, if not downright terrifying. But much of what they cited was based off of dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires. I did some of my own digging, that’s what I found too here, here, and here. As a dietitian, I’ve completed both myself and obtained thousands of dietary recalls. Can you give me an account of everything you’ve eaten for the past seven days including snacks, drinks, and meals? How about a month? I can’t either. That’s what they are basing their research on and then saying the amount of meat these people ate is linked to their cause of cancer. You can’t buy that. I will note, if these people are professing to be vegans and in two of the studies I linked to, the subjects are seventh day adventists as well, I’m guessing the researchers are taking their word that they don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or consume animal products. So over the 6 and 8 year follow up period these two studies took place, these people never messed up. Not once. Not ever. I’ll let you decide how likely that is. And how truthful people are about that. Especially when it comes to their religion.
  3. You could be thinner. True. Could be. I’m a weight loss expert. I’ve been working with people on weight loss for over ten years. I’ve never been able to adequately help someone lose weight without reducing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their protein intake. Quite opposite of a vegan diet. But certainly, the carbohydrate choices I recommend are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes. Really, I’m tired of of the 100-calorie snack packs and 1-point snack cakes filling up the grocery aisles advertised as weight loss foods. They aren’t. And they aren’t part of a vegan diet, that’s a win.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking is number one. My mission is to help you lose weight effectively and for good. I don’t buy for one second that eating a piece of bacon or any processed meat is like smoking five cigarettes. This study compared various types of cancer risks relative to habits like smoking history, processed meat, and red meat intake. However, they based their conclusions on food frequency questionnaires and did not take into account BMI or family history of cancer (although they gathered the information.) They did survey close to 500,000 individuals. So I will give it to them that they have numbers on their side. If you’ve ever talked to me about processed meat, you know I don’t like nitrites and nitrates because I do believe that there is strong evidence that they are linked to cancer and there are too many great nitrite-free options to risk it. But that doesn’t mean eliminate them altogether nor does that make a strong case to go vegan. In fact, this study found a reduction in all cause mortality when individuals replaced red meat with unprocessed white meat (chicken, fish, etc). But again, they obtained their evidence from questionnaires. So who really knows.

So far, maybe I haven’t given much compelling reason to go all out vegan. I’m really not anti-vegan at all. In fact, I’ve considered it myself but I live with two meat-lovers  and one-dairy lover so I prefer to keep the peace for now. At first glance, there is some compelling evidence that it’s the miracle diet we’ve been looking for. But then again, other diets are out there showing similar promises. Fact is, we don’t know enough about any of them and I’m not sure if we ever will. I don’t know anyone that has gained weight, could blame their cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on following a vegan diet. Quite opposite in all of the personal encounters I’ve experienced myself. If it’s something you are considering, have a plan, allow for a little flexibility, and incorporate supplements if necessary.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 reasons why people are following a dairy-free diet

If you aren’t avoiding dairy like the plague, you probably know someone who does. If you don’t, you may have heard that it’s best to choose the full fat versions over the fat free or low fat. And what about those hormones? Should you choose organic? A dairy alternative?

What’s what? Why are they avoiding it? And should you? Let’s start with two of the biggest, most glaring reasons why someone would want to avoid dairy:

1. Lactose intolerance. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 65% of adults in the U.S. suffer from this – ya know, that bloated, uncomfortable gassy feeling that sends you to the bathroom after you’ve drinking a glass of milk or just eaten a bowl of ice cream?. It’s not an allergy, but just simply the body’s inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, because it lacks the necessary enzyme, lactase, to break it down. It’s actually rare before the age of two. Milk is a big no no here, but often this includes cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, and yogurt in large quantities. Those who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, or Diverticulosis will more than likely also have lactose intolerance. Many lactose-free options have been developed over the years such as Lactaid milk and my personal favorite, Fair Life ultra filtered high protein milk which now has available options to include DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Milk allergy: this is more than just an intolerance to the lactose enzyme. Understand that an allergy is very different in that it is defined as a damaging immune response by the body to a substance. There is no tolerating even a yogurt or lactose free option if they want to avoid hives, anaphylaxis, or whatever it is that their body does in response to milk protein.

If you don’t fall into the above two categories, you may want to explore some of the other reasons with me to find out why people have sworn off dairy before you decide if you are joining the bandwagon or not:

1. Dairy is an acne-trigger: TRUE. Some research does, in fact show that high intakes of dairy are linked to moderate to severe acne in teenagers and young women due to the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) found in milk. The IGF-1 is the primary mediator for the growth hormone and is present in pregnant milk-producing cows. I believe this hormone and others is to blame for why many people are so nervous about consuming cow’s milk and have made the switch to one of the many alternatives available on the market today. Read on.

2. It contains harmful hormones: FALSE. As with with above, the word hormone gets people nervous and thus, there has been lots of public concern over the synthetic hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), that leaks (in miniscule amounts) into our dairy products from pregnant cows. What exactly is it and why is it used? Simply put, it helps the cows produce more milk, i.e. increases efficiency and productivity for their ahem, job. In fact, it’s been studied extensively in it’s twenty years in use and in this most recent review of those many studies, has been concluded totally safe. You have likely seen organic rbST-free milk and yogurt options available in your local grocery store and assumed they were better. From what I have researched, these are in response to market demand, not necessarily safety concerns. If I find out any differently, I will tell you. Promise. If you are still concerned, you have those available to choose from and certainly, if you are acne prone, go for them.

3. Dairy has been linked to certain types of cancer: FALSE except for possibly prostate, which remains inconclusive. In a 2015 analysis of 22 prospective cohort studies (1,566,940 participants), they concluded dairy was associated with a decrease in breast cancer incidence. And again, a study published last month (June 2017), they indicated after analyzing the results of 13 different studies (493,415 participants and 7453 cases) that increased calcium intake coming from diet and supplements was associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer. In another review, published at the end of last year, they concluded that cow’s milk is indeed associated with a reduced risk of colorectal, bladder, and gastric cancer as well but neutral for ovarian, pancreatic, and lung. With that many participants and cases, they make a strong argument. The jury remains out for prostate as there has been evidence that dairy raises the risk of prostate cancer, particularly because of the presence of the IGF-1 hormone. Stay clear if you’re a male and have a strong family history for now….in my opinion. It’ cancer, after all.

4. It raises diabetes risk: FALSE. In a 2016 analysis that included 22 cohort studies comprising of 579,832 individuals and 43,118 Type 2 diabetes cases, total dairy consumption, particularly from low-fat yogurt was associated with a reduced risk. Although another study found no difference using full fat yogurt, suggesting the benefits came from the fact that yogurt is rich in probiotics and the fat content is not as important. Lots of human subjects here, that’s what I like to see in results.

  • 5. It causes inflammation: TRUE, maybe. Looking at 78 studies, it really was a toss-up. This review concluded that dairy products, especially fermented ones, like yogurt, are anti-inflammatory. However, for people who have a known dairy allergy, it is definitely pro-inflammatory. Makes sense, that’s kinda what an allergic response is. As far as what it was that caused the dairy to be inflammatory, they did find more of an association with the dairy products highest in saturated fat.

6. It’s fattening and raises risk of heart disease: FALSE. In the same review, they discussed how in actuality, full fat dairy products raise HDL levels (a good thing). Although whole milk dairy products do tend to increase LDL cholesterol as well, understand that there are two types – small particle and large particle. The small, dense particle size are the ones that are more susceptible to oxidation and artery wall build-up, whereas the large are not. Dairy products have more of the large particles. That’s good. A recent meta-analysis of thirteen studies published in December of last year concluded plainly that :

Higher dairy fat exposure is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

7. It was never meant for humans, only baby calves. Personally, I find this to be a weak argument. One could argue that the only milk meant for humans is breast milk. However, many of us, myself included, enjoy soy milk, almond milk, and many of the other non-dairy novelties on a regular basis. The NHANES pubished in 2010 reported that indeed, children aged 2-4 and 5-10 did have higher BMIs when drinking higher quantities of milk (higher BMI was not necessarily equivalent to obesity). However, these results were used for the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans to encourage milk consumption among children since a higher BMI (not necessarily obese) for a child is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is well known that calcium and vitamin D intake are linked to bone health and that milk is an excellent source of these vital nutrients. We also know that bone mass is developed during childhood and adolescence.

One might argue that calcium and vitamin D are also available from the many dairy alternatives such as almond, rice, soy, and coconut milk, and often in higher quantities. In this study, however, they found that our bodies absorb about 25% less of the calcium most brands of soy milk add to their product compared to cow’s milk. In other words, you need to drink about 12 ounces of soy milk to get the same amount of calcium you would get from an 8 ounce glass of cow’s milk. Another review pointed out that we simply don’t know the amount our bodies can absorb from all of the nutrient-fortified plant-based milk options to say whether or not it’s the same as drinking cow’s milk. Either way, no one can deny our children are consuming energy dense, but not necessarily nutrient dense diets and that’s a problem. Cow’s milk is the only product I know of that is consistently high in protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D while low in food additives including added sugars that is widely offered to children in their critical growth years.

Hear me out. If you read my blogs, I understand that some of you read holistic health sites as do I. And much of what I’ve said in this post goes against what you’ve probably read or heard. But I do not believe in living in fear, I believe in what it is evidence when it comes to this stuff. I dig as much as my time allows to avoid any potential bias and present the facts to you. If you have any personal experiences that differ and you need to remain committed to a dairy free diet, there are acceptable options to get your calcium from, including some you may haven’t even thought of yet like kale, broccoli, and canned salmon. If you need probiotics and extra supplementation, I have recommendations that I fully trust and use myself that I would feel confident in sharing with you. Feel free me to contact me if you’d like to discuss it more.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here. We have an upcoming fitness challenge that’s going to be lots of fun!

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Keto diet- is it everything and more?

Several weeks ago, I began a diet review series and I did a brief synopsis of the Keto Diet. I admit it wasn’t very thorough and because I keep seeing it pop up and another friend starting it, another friend losing weight with it, and another person swearing by it for their increased energy, I’m gonna do a more thorough review here. I especially see my friends in the holistic communities doing it- and it’s spreading faster than the Whole 30 diet once was.

Is this the newest fad that will be replaced by something better in a couple of years? Or is it here to stay and in several years we are going to see evidenced based research popping up at how it’s the best diet that we never knew existed and if we just figured out how healthy fat was for us earlier, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing the rise of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and other related diseases that we do today?

Well, let’s start with what it even is. Roughly 70-75% fats (you read right), 5-10% carbohydrate, and 20-25% protein. As you can see this is not your normal low carb diet that typically replaces the missing carbs with protein. It’s all about the fat. Why? Because the purpose of this diet is to put your body into ketosis, aka a fat burning machine. Just to give you a little science lesson here, our bodies preferred source of fuel is glucose (what carbs are converted to after we eat them). Now if you are eating a diet high in carbs, that is what you will burn first for energy. And everything requires energy in our bodies to function properly, including our brains. When the body runs out of glucose (will happen if you aren’t eating very many carbs), the liver is great at producing a back up, called ketones. Ketones come from broken down fat. Make sense?

So why do people do this? I dunno about you, but while a high fat diet sounds pretty fun to me, a diet made of mostly fat doesn’t. But there are lots of anecdotal reports of promising results when one follows this kind of diet. I’ll start with two that have evidenced-based research backing the claims up (because you know me, that’s what I’m about.)

Note: it was very difficult for me to find any studies published prior to 2017 (soooo….6 months ago) that called a ketogenic diet low carb high fat. Be aware of that because any other “ketogenic” diet before that in the research was defined as “low carb, high protein.” There is a huge difference and that’s not what we are talking about here. I worked with patients and personally participated in 2 published studies on very low calorie high protein, low carb diets for 7 years.

Weight loss: this article  published in 2013 reviewed 12 different studies and found in 1415 subjects, the average weight loss after 6 months on a high fat, low carb diet was 2 pounds vs. 1.6 pounds for those following a low fat diet. After a 6 month follow up it was difficult to assess because compliance was not so great and they consumed more carbs than allowed. Another study published in 2009 was done for a full year on 106 obese individuals and compared weight loss of those on a keto diet vs a low fat, high carb diet. They found that their average weight loss was the same between groups, both losing an average of 30 pounds. Pretty good, but neither diet was superior to the other. It just showed that following a reduced calorie diet yields weight loss.

I will add here that I’ve always said, I’ve failed at what I do if I helped you lose weight but you regained it all back. I don’t think we know enough about this diet for the purposes of weight loss to know if it’s not just another yo yo plan. Sorry.

Lipid levels: In the same 2013 review, they analyzed 1258 subjects and found their triglycerides decreased significantly, and their HDL levels increased significantly. Both good things. I like that and the amount of subjects is enough to say it’s valid.

Other indicators of Metabolic Syndrome: The 2013 review noted there was no significant difference between treatment groups in changes in systolic blood pressure (11 trials), fasting blood glucose (eight trials), insulin (six trials), HbA1c – average blood glucose over three months (four trials) and C-reactive protein (four trials).

Athletic performance: In this 2017 review, they concluded that long-term low carb, high fat diets appear to be safe and may even improve several metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases in the general population. They may even provide a promising way to help control body weight and fat mass while maintaining lean body mass in athletes who are participating in sports like tae kwan do, wrestling, lightweight rowing, cycling, and running. Additionally, there is some emerging evidence that a keto diet could improve the performance in ultra-endurance sports as well as those sports with repeated high intensity activities. If you aren’t an athlete, this could still be a good thing if you’re hitting up the gym and wanna try out that new cycling class.

Focus and Mood: this has been one result that many believers love the most. And why I believe they stick with it. Who wouldn’t when you feel great, you’re losing weight, and you’re better able to focus? Who doesn’t need that? Here’s what the available research says: in a 2009 study, they found that after 8 weeks, those following both low carb, high fat diet and a low fat diet had significant improvements in their mood and cognitive functions. However, after a year, the low carb, high fat diet returned to their baseline mood and cognitive functions while those on the low-fat diet continued with their marked improvements. You read that right. The low-fat diet group continued with the better mood, NOT the keto group. This study here in 1998 reported similar results on women eating a high carb diet. I’m just the messenger, don’t hate me! Now, I’m not recommending you go eat a bunch of carbs to feel better. Okay?

Here’s the thing, the concept of following a keto diet for weight loss is fairly new in the research world. So you’re not gonna find a whole lot out there to prove it does a whole lot for health yet. You will find a bunch out there to show the benefits of what it does for those with epilepsy unresponsive to medication. It works.

And don’t expect overnight results. It takes time for the body to adapt to ketogenesis. Some sources I’ve read say two weeks, others say up to a couple of months – assuming you don’t go off plan, not even once. So no cheat days allowed. This diet is for the type A strict meal planning types. Those who are willing to keep a food record and count their carbs, fats, and proteins will do best.

I’m a weight loss expert. And here’s what I know about long term, sustainable weight loss. It’s hard. Like, really hard. If you’re looking for a study that proves ANY diet to work and be the ending answer to our obesity epidemic, well good luck. You will surely find that one person who followed a high carb diet and lost 167 pounds and now has kept it off for 13 years. There’s gonna be that person following the Atkins diet since it’s introduction to the dieting world and it’s changed their life forever. And then there’s the rest of the dieting world still looking for what works for them. I did not find anything that said following the ketogenic diet was harmful, not even long term. In fact, quite opposite. So if you wanna try it because you know someone or more than a few someones who are following it and now they look and feel great and you think it’s something that could help you, well let me know! I’m always looking to be inspired by someone’s dieting success story.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you know what high fructose corn syrup really is?

Believe it or not, there is a large degree of controversy in the health community as to whether or not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) any different than consuming sugar, honey, or any of the other sweeteners humans have consumed for decades prior to the 1970s when it was first introduced on the market.

Let’s start off with defining what this evil thing is, HFCS, anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, probably all bad things. But do you know what it really is (besides an evil liquid sweet substance that makes you fat especially your liver, inflames everything in your body, and will likely give you a heart attack in the next 5 years)? Defined, it is derived from corn starch which has been broken down into corn syrup to which enzymes have been added to change some of the glucose to fructose, making the product

sweeter than regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is 100% glucose whereas HFCS now has a large portion or fructose. According to the FDA, HFCS 42 (as in 42% fructose) is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 (as in 55% fructose) is used primarily in soft drinks. Make sense?

Why is it used? Because it’s cheap. It comes from an abundance and renewable source in the agricultural industry – corn. It’s also stable in acidic environments and beverages, making it very easy to use in products. Being that it’s liquid, it’s also easy to pump from delivery vehicles to mixing and storage tanks.

So why the controversy? It’s cheap, it’s easy, seems to be near identical to table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose – the substance all other sweeteners are compared to. So why all the media hype? One of the biggest spotlights it has been deemed a demon for is the obesity epidemic. I’ve done as thorough research review and as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince them, conf

use them.”And that’s largely where I’m at -sort of.

Here’s why. The vast majority of the studies I read concluded that HFCS is no more to harmful to our health than consuming regular table sugar is. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means it’s not worse for you than eating added sugars in general. That makes a lot of sense to me because I already know that eating added sugar does more harm that good. What didn’t make sense to me was that some of these articles, like this one from the NIH, while compelling, were funded by Pepsi Co International, Coca Cola, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, Corn Refiners Association, and Weight Watchers. The conclusion was “based on high quality evidence from randomized controlled tria

ls (RCT), systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort studies that singling out added sugars as unique culprits for metabolically based diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease appears inconsistent with modern, high quality evidence and is very unlikely to yield health benefits.” In case you forgot, Weight Watchers has a large product line if one and two point cakes, muffins, and other yummy sweet treats to keep you on track with your point count.

And this review, who’s final statement was “it does not appear to be practical to base dietary guidance on selecting or avoiding these specific types of sweeteners,” was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s just hard for me to see beyond the possibility of hidden agendas w

hen companies who have a lot to lose are dumping their money into statements telling the public th

at what they are doing is perfectly safe.

I did find some unbiased research out there though. As of 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that there indeed is evidence that it may have a special connection to the rising obesity rates, particularly because of the overconsumption of sweetened sodas. The conclusion that started this whole controversy was that “the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and gout is also increased with the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

But why would this be? For starters, with the cheap source of sweeteners, the average soda size grew from sixteen ounce bottles to twenty. Even more so, this sugary substance is addicting. W

hen we get a taste of it, we want more. Sweetness is an acquired taste. Ever met a one year old who’s never had candy or cookies? I have and they could care less about it. I met a holistic nutrition doctor once that has two children between the ages of five and ten who have never had sugar of any kind before….and they didn’t want it. In contrast, I’ve met a two year old who’s tasted candy and they will go through great lengths to get it (like pulling up chairs, climbing furniture, hiding behind furniture with said candy, screaming, crying…not that this was my kid or anything.)

In a more recent study in 2013, they concluded similar results (along with increased risk of fatty liver disease) with more astounding statistics – between 1950 and 2000 the soda consumption increased from 10 gallons per year to over 50 gallons per year and from 120 pounds of sugar in 1994 to over 160 pounds of sugar in the 21 st century.

Additionally, fructose can be a nightmare if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. For about one third of sufferers, fructose malabsorption or intolerance may exacerbate symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fructose is naturally found in honey and fruits. But we eat it on the daily in sugary drinks and processed foods – trying to eliminate it can be a challenge. Same goes for those with a corn allergy. It’s becomes a second job to avoid HFCS since it’s now in not only sodas but crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, and yogurt.

Lastly, I’ve talked about the hunger regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin before. There is evidence to suggest that HFCS inhibits insulin secretion thus, the leptin isn’t produced to promote satiety after a meal or a snack full of HFCS. As far as I have found, ghrelin (the hunger producing hormo

ne) isn’t increased, but who cares when you get no full signal while you’re chowing down on a box of doughnuts?

Bottom line: eat it, as with table sugar and all added sugars, in moderation. It is unclear if HFCS is the cause of the rising obesity epidemic and all of the related health issues we are experienc

ing in ourselves and our families, but it is crystal clear that there is a correlation.

What is moderation though? Well, I didn’t find much out there. I know less than 160 pounds per year, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot. To give you an idea, one 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams. So consider a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sweetened beverages. Start there and limit the sweets to special occasions and holidays.

 

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN